December 28, 1852

cuba-album2

Havana-coachws-1851-2-copy

Federico Mialhe, Album Pinteresco de la Isla de Cuba and The Gates of Montserratte, Havana, Cuba, ca. 1850*

 

Tuesday Dec 28th  Catharine & self have been to work on

our dresses  Have cut & made the sleeves & got

the skirts made &c  This afternoon have spent

in the other part of the house   Mr Ames

there to tea  Oliver & wife dined there

on Turkey  Received another letter from

Oakes Angier  He was to leave for Havana

last Wednesday

 

A letter from Oakes Angier arrived today, evidently at least the second one he had written since departing two weeks earlier. If, as he wrote, he was leaving Charleston on Dec. 22, then by this date, he was just about landing in Havana. He may have continued to sail south on the Steamship James Adger or he may have boarded the Steamship Isabel which, at that time and for at least a decade more, ran regularly between Charleston and Havana, with stops in Savannah, Georgia and Key West, Florida. The Isabel carried mail as well as passengers. The year before, it had even carried the famous Jenny Lind to the island for a concert.

While Evelina was dress-making and Oliver Ames Jr and Sarah Lothrop Ames were dining on turkey at Sarah Witherell’s, Oakes Angier was shaking off the damp of his sea voyage and stepping into the soft humidity of Cuba. Did he, like others before and after, settle into a North-American section of Havana called Cardenas, and look out on the beautiful Cardenas Bay? Did he gaze at the mountains across the bay? And did he look at – surely, he looked at – the miles and miles of sugar cane, palm trees and estancias? Did he ride in a volant, a conveyance whose rear wheels were six feet high? Did he make friends?

Most of all, did Oakes Angier get better? Was the change of climate good for him? He did, and it was. Many readers of this blog – some of whom are his descendants – already know that Oakes Angier did, in fact, return home safely, cured of his pulmonary ailment. We don’t yet know exactly when and how he returned, but by the summer of 1855, he would be back in North Easton, married to Catharine Hobart and building his home, Queset House. He would recover.

 

*Images and much information courtesy of http://www.skinnerfamilypapers.com

 

December 22, 1852

new-england-clam-chowder-3-550

 

Wednesday Dec 22d  Miss Alge[r] came again to day

to give another lesson which makes the 

18th  She stopt to dinner we had fish

chowder & I had to attend to it while she

was giving Susan her lesson and did not hear

it  The families all took tea at Olivers

I have done but very little on Susans sack

Susan scratched Emilys Pianno

 

Readers might wonder how Oakes Angier Ames was faring on his voyage to Cuba. We’ll learn later that by this date, he had reached Charleston, South Carolina and was to depart this day for Havana.

So much attention had been focused lately on Oakes Angier Ames that we also might wonder what the other two Ames sons were up to. Local historian William Chaffin obligingly tells us. They were helping form a local militia:

A charter for an infantry company, signed by Governor Boutwell, was secured December 3, 1852, and the company was organized on the 22d. The following officers were chosen: William E. Bump, captain; Francis Tilden, first lieutenant; Oliver Ames, 3d, second lieutenant; John Carr, third lieutenant; Rufus Willis, fourth lieutenant. This company and one then recently formed at Canton were organized as the second battalion of light infantry, second brigade, and first division, the Easton company being known as Company B.

Of this battalion Oliver Ames, 3d, was chosen adjutant. He was afterward promoted to be major, and the lieutenant-colonel; and Frank M. Ames was made quartermaster and then major. The State furnished this company with fifty guns, bayonets, and other accoutrements, besides swords for the officers.  The record book states that the State also forwarded “1 Brass Kittle drum in good order, and 1 Fife, crooked and unfit for use.”*

A militia, typically, is a group of civilian volunteers who band together, with some kind of government blessing and support, to supplement a regular military army. Such militias had formed before in Easton and elsewhere and, according to Chaffin, a “military spirit began to revive again in 1852.”* What was motivating this activity? Were the young men responding to the increased agitation between the North and the South, or were they simply feeling their oats?

Susan Ames was feeling something today, too.  By accident or design, she scratched her cousin Emily’s piano. Not good. Evelina may not have witnessed the incident, as she was busy in the kitchen making fish chowder for dinner. The chowder was partaken of by the family and by the piano teacher, who often timed her lessons around the midday meal. Perhaps a regular meal was part of her pay.

 

*William L. Chaffin, History of Easton, 1866,  pp. 512 – 513

December 20, 1852

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Monday Dec 20th  Was puttering about house most of the time

this forenoon  made some cake of sour cream

This afternoon here to tea  Mrs H & A L Ames

Mrs Witherell Emily & father & Oliver & wife

Have cut a pattern from Mrs Whitwells

cloak for Susan  Have not done much

sewing of course

Life seemed to be getting back to normal. The servants did the laundry while Evelina puttered about the house and did a little baking. In the evening, the family assembled for tea at Evelina and Oakes’s. Sarah Ames Witherell, Emily Witherell, Oliver Ames Jr., Sarah Lothrop Ames, and Old Oliver himself attended. So did Sally Hewes Ames and Almira Ames, who were still visiting; Almira would stay at the Ames compound well into the new year. Missing were Fred and Helen Ames – off at school, presumably – and Oakes Angier, of course.

The family was weighed down by personal difficulties: Oakes Angier an invalid in far-off Cuba and Sally Hewes Ames fed up and seeking divorce, not to mention the lingering loss of George Oliver Witherell earlier in the year. Perhaps other concerns occupied their thoughts, too. Like many other families, the Ameses drew strength from simply standing together. In the same way they had risen from the fire at the shovel factory back in March, they would do their best to prevail over the latest adversity. What a year it had been for them.

Yet on the horizon, a greater ill loomed which it is our readers’ advantage to know and the Ames family’s innocence not to foresee. Eight years later, on this exact date, the State of South Carolina would issue a proclamation of secession from the United States, kicking off the calamitous American Civil War.

 

December 15, 1852

USS_James_Adger

Steamer James Adger

Wednesday Dec 15th  Got into New York about 5 Oclock

had a very pleasant night  Breakfast at

the Astor House & then called on Mrs A L Ames

OAA & self dined at the Clifford House  Mrs Ames

went with us to see Oakes A start for Charleston

at 3 Oclock, there met Mr Colter & Mr C Swain

who were there on the same errand  Mr Ames

settled at the Astor & went to the Clifford House

The 16th music lesson

 

Evelina Gilmore Ames woke up in New York City on this December weekday, far away from her needle and thread. After a last meal with Oakes Angier, she went to the waterfront to bid farewell as he boarded his vessel. With her husband and some family friends – including Charles Swain, brother of John H. Swain of North Easton – she waved goodbye to Oakes Angier, not knowing if she would ever see him again.

Emotions ran high, no doubt, but they must have competed for attention with the immediate scene around her. The sheer scale of din and clamor on the docks would have been like nothing Evelina had experienced before. A comparable departure from New York Harbor for Cuba was recorded by fellow New Englander Richard Henry Dana in 1859. He describes a steamer as she is ready to sail:

[H]er decks are full, and the mud and snow of the pier are well trodden by men and horses. Coaches drive down furiously, and nervous passengers put their heads out to see if the steamer is off before her time; and on the decks, and in the gangways, inexperienced passengers run against everybody, and mistake the engineer for the steward, and come up the same stairs they go down, without knowing it. In the dreary snow, the newspaper vendors cry the papers, and the book vendors thrust yellow covers into your face – “Reading for the voyage, sir – five hundred pages, close print!”[…] The great beam of the engine moves slowly up and down, and the black hull sways at its fasts. A motley crew are the passengers. Shivering Cubans, exotics that have taken slight root in the hothouses of Fifth Avenue, are to brave a few days of sleet and cold at sea, for the palm trees and mangoes, the cocoas and orange trees, they will be sitting under in six days, at farthest. There are Yankee shipmasters going out to join their “cotton wagons” at New Orleans and Mobile, merchants pursuing a commerce that knows no rest and no locality; confirmed invalids advised to go to Cuba to die under mosquito nets and be buried in a Potter’s Field; and other invalids […] and here and there, a mere vacation maker, like myself.”*

Three ships were cleared to sail on December 15, 1852, from New York Harbor: the Steamer James Adger, the Bark Caroline and the Schooner Aramis. The latter two vessels cleared but did not depart, perhaps waiting for more favorable wind or tide. The steamship, the hybrid of its day, was new, having been built that year in New York. Not having to wait for wind or tide, the James Adger cleared and sailed, its destination being Charleston, South Carolina, a port of call on the way to Cuba. To date, we don’t know which ship Oakes Angier was on, but we might imagine that he – and his father, who no doubt played a roll in making these arrangements – opted for the newest, fastest vessel. Steamships were the way to go.

And off he went.

*Richard Henry Dana, To Cuba and Back, 1859, courtesy of Echo Library

 

December 13, 1852

Valise

 

Monday 

Dec 13th  I have been to work for OAA again to

day as I suppose I shall as long as he stays

as I cannot set myself about any thing

else It is town meeting day and they

have come home not feeling very well satisfied

I have my clothes in the valise so that

I can go to New York with them if I wish

when the time comes but now feel undecided

As the clock ticked down, Evelina was in a quandary. Should she go with her husband Oakes to New York to see their eldest son sail off to Cuba? Distinctly “undecided,” she nonetheless packed a valise. She’d be ready just in case, but right now she couldn’t concentrate on “any thing else” except last minute details for Oakes Angier. He would be leaving tomorrow.

The men, meanwhile, seemed calm. Old Oliver reported on the weather, of course: “[I]t was fair this morning but clouded up about noon and there was about an inch of snow fell in the afternoon wind south west but pritty chilly.”* Chilly or not, Oakes and his sons, probably, attended a town meeting. Evelina doesn’t share the reason for the meeting, only that things didn’t go the way her family members had hoped.

 

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

December 9, 1852

936572_l

Dressing case, mid-19th c.*

Thursday Dec 9th  Mrs Witherell & Mrs Ames

have been to Boston and Oakes A came

home with them  Mrs Norris has a present

from Mr Norris of a beautiful dressing case

Have got the forks & spoons &c from Bigelows

for which they charge 77 dollars 77 cts

Miss Alger brought Mother & Lavinia up

yesterday  Lavinia & Edwin & wife were here

and I went [to] Augustus after Mother this forenoon 

 

Evelina seemed to be in better spirits, perhaps because Oakes Angier returned from Boston. She was savoring every minute with him before he left for Cuba.

Her sisters-in-law, Sarah Ames Witherell and Sarah Lothrop Ames, had also been in the city. They returned with the news that Caleb Norris, son-in-law of Robert and Melinda Orr, had given his wife, also named Melinda, a dressing case for her 28th birthday. Norris was a dry goods merchant and the young couple lived with her parents on Columbus Avenue. Given Norris’s connections in wholesale and retail, he must have been able to procure his wife a fine box, perhaps at a friendly price. However he managed it, he impressed the Ames women mightily.

A dressing case was a fashionable item for women**, one that could be placed on a dressing table or clasped closed to travel. Most cases, such as the one in the illustration, contained bottles and vials to hold perfume and lotion, and brushes and combs for the grooming of increasingly complicated hairstyles. All items deemed necessary for the beautification and maintenance of a woman’s hair, face and hands were thoughtfully and expensively included, topped off in this case with silver lids.

Their friends weren’t the only ones spending money on luxury items. Evelina tells us what it cost to buy some new flatware and have it monogrammed: $77.77. In today’s dollars (2015), that would amount to approximately $2,430. The Ameses were becoming quite wealthy to be able to spend that amount. The purchase certainly overpowers that 75 cent crumb brush that Evelina received from her nephew Fred, but to her credit she seemed equally pleased with both acquisitions.

 

*courtesy of http://www.antiquebox.org 

** There were also dressing cases for men, with different contents, naturally.

December 8, 1852

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Wednesday Dec 8th  Have been doing to day probably

what I shall while Oakes A stays, to work

on his clothes  He went to Boston this

morning  It is so near the time he is to leave

that I do not like to have him away but 

how little is he sensible to what my feelings are

Miss Alger has given the 15th leson

 

Only one week earlier, Evelina had learned that Oakes Angier’s illness had returned. She had been shocked, rattled, anxious. Today, a week later, she was not much improved and had added a dose of self-pity. She was feeling sorry for herself. While Oakes Angier went off to Boston for the day, probably with his cousin Alson Augustus Gilmore, Evelina stayed at home to mend and sew the clothes he would need for the journey to Cuba. “[H]ow little is he sensible” to her maternal concern and regard, she bemoaned.

Oakes Angier may have been quite aware of his mother’s feelings, and may have wanted a break from them. Fresh air, sunshine and a jaunt into Boston must have appealed to him. He had his own mental adjustments to make to this threat to his young life, independent of everyone else’s personal regard. He had so much at stake.

So mother and son spent some time apart, he exploring some of the larger world he would soon be thrust into, she nursing a heavy heart at home, sewing, of course, perhaps with piano scales running in the background.

The only thing that Old Oliver noted was that it was a “fair good”* day.

*Oliver Ames, Journal, Stonehill College Archives, Arnold Tofias Collection

 

 

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